The Fight Goes On
This year, the themes of the Chanukah story seem especially timely for the Jewish community. The main message that I always emphasized was the fight for religious freedom initiated by the Maccabees against the tyrannical edicts of King Antiochus. His decrees included altering the way that our ancestors prayed and observed temple-based rituals. Without an armed revolt, Judaism might not have survived. In many ways, the current prevalence of antisemitism seems to be as serious a challenge to our faith.
While I am not advocating any rebellions, I am in favor of a much more focused and aggressive response to antisemitism. As the founder of an organization solely devoted to reducing this prejudice, I have some recommendations. First, we need to be stronger advocates for our faith. Most of our neighbors don’t have any appreciation for how we pray and what values we espouse. There is a real thirst among our non-Jewish neighbors to learn more about our faith. There is a great deal of ignorance about Judaism that, if left unaddressed, can easily become prejudice and hate.
Secondly, I believe that the time has come to say to the rest of the world: Enough. I think that 2,000 years of having the same discussions about Jews, Jesus, Judas, and the traditional prejudices against Jews and Judaism must end. I believe that future conversations should be about points of connections between the faiths. I emphasize to my Christian friends the many historical linkages that Jews and Christians have. The main one, of course, is the Jewishness of Jesus. Him, his parents, his family, and his followers were believing, practicing, learned Jews. I conclude this point by suggesting that Jews and Christians are spiritual siblings linked together by powerful Biblical and religious histories. People begin to realize that it’s harder to be prejudiced against a relative.
In addition to speaking about these religious bonds, I recommend that we open our synagogues and temples to our Christian friends. We need more community outreach and engagement with our neighbors. They need real-life experiences and conversations about Jews and Judaism. I have had the experience of studying the prophecies of Isaiah with Christian groups and have seen their amazement when they hear our interpretations of the texts. I have led model seders where Christians begin to internalize the powerful symbolism of the matzah and their communion ritual.
One of the most delightful memories was when I was able to show a professor friend a Torah scroll that happened to be opened to the book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 6, from which the Shema and V’ah’havta comes. He never knew that much of early Christianity is taken from the Torah. He was literally awestruck when I showed him these prayers. He said to me, “I’ve attended churches all my life and no one had every taught about the Torah and early Christianity. Thank you for showing me!”
The miracle of Chanukah is that we are still here after so many millennia. We offer our Maccabee ancestors much thanks for putting their lives on the line for us almost 2,200 years ago. Now, it’s our turn to be strong, be knowledgeable and be “lovingly assertive” in our conversations with our neighbors. Let us teach them about the richness of Judaism, show them what goes on in a synagogue, educate them about all our faith connections, take our conversations in a new direction and finally say: Enough.
Rabbi Albert I. Slomovitz is the Founder of the Jewish Christian Discovery Center.